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The Bucks are making more moves. (PHOTO: San Antonio Spurs Facebook/Dan Garcia)

Bucks go all-in with Bledsoe extension, Gasol signing

Just weeks after the hectic NBA trade deadline wrapped up, the Milwaukee Bucks are back at it again, reportedly signing guard Eric Bledsoe to a four-year, $70 million extension mere minutes after rumors started swirling that the recently bought-out Pau Gasol was likely heading to Brew City for the stretch run. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski was first with both reports.

Let's start with the shocking news: the Bledsoe extension. Due to be a free agent this July, Bledsoe has posted a career season thus far, averaging 15.7 points, 5.5 assists and just 2.1 turnovers per game, his lowest mark since becoming a full-time starter six years ago. The 29-year-old point guard is also shooting a career high 49.2 percent from the field.

This Bledsoe deal gives Milwaukee a clearer vision headed into the offseason and allows them to better negotiate with some of its other players. After Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is locked up through the 2020-21 season, the Bucks' five best players were scheduled to hit the market this summer. Brook Lopez and the recently acquired Nikola Mirotic will be unrestricted free agents and are likely to be joined by Khris Middleton should he turn down his $13 million player option as expected. 2016-17 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon will also be a restricted free agent. Even George Hill could hit the market if the Bucks buy out the final year of his deal for a fraction of the $19 million he is slated to earn in 2019-20.

Inking Bledsoe to an extension worth $17.5 million per year is certainly palatable, especially with the salary cap expected to rise to roughly $109 million in 2019-20. After factoring in Bledsoe's $17.5 million for next season – the final terms have not been announced, so that number could change slightly – Milwaukee will have roughly $72 million in salary due to eight players in 2019-20 (if they decide to buy out Hill). That leaves them with $37 million in space if they want to operate underneath the salary cap – enough to retain Middleton on a maximum-type deal – though they could always sneak over that threshold and pay the luxury tax, as well.

Prior to extending Bledsoe, the Bucks also made headlines when it was reported they are likely to sign center Pau Gasol for the remainder of the season as a backup big man and veteran presence. Gasol certainly will not provide the same kind of on-court impact as Bledsoe over the next few years, but he could still have immense value this spring.

Prior to the Gasol signing, Hill was the only player on the roster to ever even play in the conference finals. The Bucks have faced very little adversity this year – a testament to Antetokoumpo's skill and Budenholzer's system – but eventually they will find themselves with their backs against the wall this spring. For a team that has not won a playoff series since 2001 and a coach with a history of falling short in the postseason, Gasol's experience will add a calming presence to an otherwise unproven roster.

The six-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion could also pick up some spot minutes in the postseason if starter Brook Lopez finds himself in foul trouble against either Philadelphia's Joel Embiid or Toronto's Marc Gasol during a seven-game series. Lopez was the only nominal center on the roster prior to the Gasol signing, though the 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo can certainly fill that void if necessary.

Milwaukee has now supplemented its roster with three moderately high-profile midseason acquisitions – Gasol, Hill and, most importantly, Nikola Mirotic – and started to lock in pieces of this current core for the future. The former offers them more versatility in the postseason this year, while the latter gives the Bucks' front office options during this team-building process.

It's long been assumed Milwaukee will have to make sacrifices after this season. After all, Bledsoe and potentially Middleton are not the typical running mates around a team's superstar for the modern championship contender, and it could get quite pricey for ownership to retain those aforementioned free agents. But after nearly five months of historic basketball, it's clear this is not a typical team.

Milwaukee is brimming with confidence, is loading up its roster and features the MVP frontrunner. The Bucks don't have to let this roster drift apart in four months just because the rest of the league says so. They still control their own destiny – both for this season and into the 2020s. Milwaukee is going all-in right now, but why can't Milwaukee have it all in the future, as well?


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